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Q&A: How are death row inmates treated differently from regular prisoners?

Published Feb. 5, 2012

A primer on death row inmates

It seems to me that when it takes 22 years to carry out a death sentence there must be something wrong with our judicial system. When a governor signs the death decree, do all appeals cease? Do inmates on death row get visitors other than legal counsel? What are the restrictions as opposed to regular prisoners?

The Florida Department of Corrections has a comprehensive fact sheet online about death row inmates ( www.dc.state.fl.us/oth/deathrow). Among the facts gleaned from the website:

• Death row inmates are kept in a cell 6 feet by 9 feet by 9.5 feet high. When a death warrant is signed, the inmate is moved to a cell 7 feet by 12 feet by 8.5 feet high.

• Men on death row are imprisoned at the Florida State Prison in Starke and the Union Correctional Institution in Raiford. The women on death row are at the Lowell Correctional Institution Annex in Lowell.

• Signing of a death warrant does not halt appeals. The DOC has people on duty up to the moment of execution in case a stay is issued.

• All visitors must be approved. For information about visiting days and hours, contact the classification officer at the assigned facility.

• Inmates are fed three times a day: at 5 a.m., between 10:30-11 a.m. and between 4-4:30 p.m. They get a "spork" for a utensil. Prior to execution an inmate may request a last meal. It can't cost more than $40 and must be purchased locally.

• Prisoners may shower every other day.

• Death row inmates are counted hourly. They are escorted in handcuffs and wear them everywhere except in their cells, the exercise yard and the shower. They stay in their cells except for medical issues, visits, exercise time or interviews with the media. When a death warrant is signed, the inmate may have a legal and social phone call.

• Prisoners get mail daily except for holidays and weekends. They are permitted to have snacks, radios and 13-inch TVs, but no cable. They cannot use any form of tobacco. They do not have air-conditioning. While on death watch, they are permitted to have radios and TVs outside their cells bars.

• Death row inmates are under closer supervision and do not get out of their cells as often as the non-death row inmates.

• The average stay on death prior to execution is 12.91 years. As of Feb. 1, there are 395 people on death row — 235 white men, 143 black men, 13 other men, one white woman, one black woman and two other women.

• While several inmates went to death row earlier, Gary Alvord has been on death row the longest continuous time — since April 9, 1974. Alvord, 62, murdered Lynn Herrmann, 18; her mother Ann Herrmann, 36; and her grandmother Georgia Tully, 53, in their Tampa home in 1973.

• The next up for execution is Robert Waterhouse, who is scheduled to die at 6 p.m. Feb. 15. Waterhouse, 65, was convicted in the 1980 murder of Deborah Kammerer, 29, in St. Petersburg.

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